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Sign Salad’s Mark Lemon highlights the power of combining semiotics with analyzing text data

Semiotics – the study of signs and symbols – can help brands to gain a greater understanding of audiences and culture. However, to unlock even more insight into culture, combining a semiotic analysis of language with text data comparison provides a powerful additional lens.

Mark Lemon

This is the approach the cultural insight agency Sign Salad is adopting, as it seeks to layer Relative Insight’s text analysis platform within its semiotics & language expertise.

“We’re always interested in new approaches and ways of augmenting our analysis,” says Mark Lemon, associate director at Sign Salad. “As semiotics specialists, we’re used to looking at the detail of things and how these are influenced by, and impact on culture, such as the color and texture of packaging, or the language used in product descriptors. However, there are challenges in understanding the full breadth of culture through written material.

“Relative Insight helps us sort the wheat from the chaff – highlighting what is background noise and what is meaningful.”

A two-pronged approach to develop true understanding

In delivering its semiotic analysis, Sign Salad prides itself on delving below the surface to find what really matters. It’s using this same methodology when it comes to text analysis.

“We’re always looking beyond the obvious to the unspoken, cultural connotations,” notes Mark, adding: “When we look at visual material, what can seem incidental is actually fundamental to meaning. This is the same with written language.”

He uses the example of the types of words people adopt to describe their day to highlight why this is important to brands:

“Someone might talk about their day as being a struggle. For example, they had to ‘fight’ to get on the tube, and wear a big coat to ‘protect’ themselves from elements. Most people wouldn’t necessarily think about these words, but for a semiotician this language is revealing. It shows that for this person their day is a battle. Their mindset is one of conflict with the world around them.

“Brands therefore need to offer that consumer a product which appeals to their needs. They need to provide them with a tool to help them with their fight – or give them something that offers an escape to take them out of the battle.”

Analyzing text data through Relative Insight allows Sign Salad to apply this lens to cultural discussion at large, as it plays out on social platforms or in the media, and offers data metrics giving Mark the confidence that any insights that Sign Salad uncover are statistically significant – and therefore worthy of further investigation.

“Relative Insight adds qualitative rigor and clear metrics. The platform reveals that we aren’t just finding isolated examples, but themes embedded in cultural norms.

“Using Relative offers a rapid way to compare and distinguish between different demographics or markets, which helps our clients enter new spaces where cultural expressions are different. The tool has enriched the process and helped to identify those differences.”

What has Sign Salad learned through analyzing text data?

While the combination of text analysis and semiotics sounds like a winning formula, being able to apply it to real-world scenarios is vital. Mark cited medical-based studies the agency has already undertaken where text analytics and semiotics created powerful insights.

Both involved the words healthcare practitioners used when describing treatments to patients, with the first examining more general conversations among them:  

“On the surface they showed confidence. However, there were a few phrases mentioned suggesting fate and luck. They would say a treatment offers meaningful difference…‘touch wood,’ or with ‘a fair wind’. On the surface they project a sense of control, but there’s tacit acknowledgement that there were elements still beyond their control.

“Therefore, pharma brands promoting treatments should highlight dependable results. These are important in giving healthcare practitioners a sense of control.”

The second involved the different words used by practitioners in the US and Japan:

“We compared how practitioners discussed treatments in those two countries. In the US, it was all about speed: practitioners compared the drugs on offer to cheetahs and falcons to highlight how quickly treatments would work.

“Whereas Japanese practitioners were keen to emphasise that treatment is a ‘slow and steady’ process which requires patience.”

Analyzing text data helped Sign Salad to surface cultural differences and consumer mindsets in a way which demonstrated to its clients how they can resonate with audiences in both markets.

Text analysis and semiotics gives Sign Salad the best of both worlds

Text analysis has given the agency another tool to help it connect brands to cultural narratives and connotations. The two examples above only scratch the surface on the ways in which the agency plans to unite the techniques, as Mark details:

“Whenever we need to look into the specifics of a category conversation, we can use Relative’s text analysis in combination with our semiotic language analysis to surface the unconscious things which might explain differences in performance.

Plus, any time a brand is looking to appeal to a new consumer group, an analysis using this dual approach can help to raise cultural-specific watchouts and address the needs of consumers.”

By analyzing text data, the agency has added a new angle to its language analysis offering and will provide its partner brands with even more powerful cultural insights.